NATIONAL NEWS- FEBRUARY 2017

Cabinet nod to modify Scheduled Castes list in Odisha

  • The Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has given a nod to approve the introduction of Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order Amendment Bill, 2015 in the Parliament.
  • The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order Amendment Bill, 2015 seeks to amend the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950, in order to modify the list of Scheduled Castes in five states, i.e., Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Kerala, Odisha and West Bengal.
  • The Bill also modifies the Central List of Other Backward Classes of three states, i.e., Chhattisgarh, Haryana and Kerala.

The following castes/communities, as per approved modalities, were found to be eligible for their inclusion in, exclusion from and other modifications in the list of Scheduled Castes:

  1. Chhattisgarh: Sais, Sarathi, Soot-Sarathi and Thanwar are eligible for their inclusion in SC category.
  2. Haryana: Aheria (also called Aheri, Hari, Heri, Thori and Tur) and Rai Sikh have been included in the SC list.
  3. Kerala: Peruvannan caste has been included the list and Malayan community area has been extended.
  4. Odisha: Bariki and Kummari castes have been excluded from the OBC list.
  5. West Bengal: The area restriction of the inclusion of Chain caste has been removed.
  • The members of these communities will be included in the list of Scheduled Castes after the Bill becomes an Act.
  • As notified under the provisions of Article 341 of the Constitution of India, certain privileges/concessions are provided to the members of Scheduled Castes.

Chennai oil spill: Centre orders probe

  • After the collision of two vessels off Kamarajar Port in Ennore in Tamil Nadu that led to a massive oil spill, the Centre said on Saturday a total of 65 tonnes of sludge has been removed so far and over 90 per cent of the work has been completed.
  • MT BW Maple and MT Dawn Kanchipuram had collided in the early hours on January 28 and one of the ships, which was carrying 32,813 tonnes of oil, had suffered damage, leading to the spill.
  • The government has ordered a high-level probe, headed by director general shipping, to nail the guilty behind the oil spill that took place off the Chennai Coast following collision between two ships and the report is likely in a month, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari said on Friday, even as the Madras high court directed the state government to urgently look into the issue and take necessary steps.
  • It is observed that there is a vast difference between quantity of oil spilt and sludge recovered due to the fact that the oil gets coagulated and becomes puffy when it is recovered with water and sand,” an official release said.
  • The release said ‘super suckers’ have removed 54 tonnes which contained 70 per cent water.
  • The coast guard has been coordinating the operations jointly with personnel from the Chennai Port, Kamarajar Port, the State government and its agencies, IOCL, NGOs, Cadet Trainees from maritime educational institutions and fishermen.
  • Teams of workers from the Greater Chennai Corporation and private conservancy agencies have been physically removed blobs of oil deposited along the beaches in Chennai.
  • The Directorate General of Shipping has instituted a statutory inquiry under the Merchant Shipping Act to ascertain the causes and contributory factors that led to the accident and both the ships have been restrained from leaving the Port.
  • DG Shipping was also holding discussions with the owners of the two ships regarding the payment of claims.

Navy launches underwater harbour defence and surveillance system

  • An Integrated Underwater Harbour Defence and Surveillance System was inaugurated by Vice Admiral Girish Luthra, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Naval Command in Mumbai.
  • The system will enhance the security of valuable assets against asymmetric threats, a Defence spokesperson said.
  • Vice Admiral Luthra said the inauguration of IUHDSS is a significant step in strengthening Harbour Defence and Security at Mumbai.

About IUHDSS

  • The IUHDSS is a state of the art system with integrated radars, electro optic cameras and sonars.
  • The sensors have been strategically installed around the Mumbai Harbour to provide comprehensive real-time situational awareness for monitoring and analysis, the spokesperson said.
  • It is capable of detecting, tracking, identifying and generating warning for all types of underwater and surface threats to harbour security.
  • Besides detecting large targets, it can also detect small targets like divers, boats and swimmers at adequate ranges.
  • IUHDSS will play an important role in strengthening Harbour Defence and Security at Mumbai.

Centre forms six-member committee to Look into Haj Subsidy issue

  • The Union government has formed a six-member committee to study the ways to improve India’s Haj policy and look into the issue of subsidy to the pilgrimage in light of a 2012 Supreme Court order on gradually reducing and abolishing it by 2022.

The Members

  • Former Consulate General of India (CGI), Jeddah, Afzal Amanullah will be the head of the committee.
  • Besides, Ministry Joint Secretary J Alam will serve as member secretary.
  • Other in the committee includes, Bombay High Court judge (retd) SS Parkar, ex-Haj Committee of India chairman Qaiser Shamim, former Air India CMD Michael Mascarenhas , Muslim scholar-chartered accountant Kamal Faruqui.

Why the committee has been formed?

  • The experts committee has been formed and it will give report in a month or two on how India’s Haj policy can be improved,
  • How the pilgrims can get maximum concessions and how Haj can be managed better.
  • The panel will speak to all the stakeholders concerned before finalising and submitting its report.
  • According to sources, the panel will examine implications of various directions of the apex court with regard to the existing Haj policy, and suitable amendments in it.
  • The committee will also review the effectiveness of Haj Committee of India’s management of pilgrims’ accommodation and air travel.
  • It will also assess the aspects of transparency, consumer satisfaction and disclosure requirements for private tour operators to protect interest of the pilgrims with a view to make the policy of greater assistance to the pilgrims.

The Issues

  • There are several issues relating to Haj subsidy. Some people are of the view that it should go, some say it should be there.
  • Some have suggested the system at AIR India should be changed.
  • Last month, in the biggest hike in nearly three decades, Saudi Arabia had increased India’s annual Haj quota by 34,500, increasing it from 1,36,020 to 1,70,520 pilgrims.
  • The Supreme Court had in 2012 directed the Union government to gradually reduce and abolish Haj subsidy by 2022.
  • It had asked the government to invest the subsidy amount of approximately Rs 650 crore a year then on educational and social development of the community.

Haj Subsidy

  • The Haj subsidy is a subsidy given to Indian Muslim Hajj pilgrims by the Government of India in form of discounted Air fares on Indian Government owned Air India.
  • The program has its origins in British colonial era.In post-colonial era, the Government of India expanded the program in 1959 with the Hajj Act.
  • The subsidy initially applied to Indian Muslim pilgrims traveling for religious reasons to Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Jordan.
  • Haj subsidy started in 1954, as an idea initiated by the then government, with flights between Mumbai and Jeddah.
  • Additional flight legs were added over the years, and since 1984, all Haj traffic has been shared by Air India and Saudia, the national carriers of India and Saudi Arabia.
  • The monopoly of these airlines has proven the most contentious point of the subsidy with some Muslims objecting to it by claiming that the real beneficiary is Air India as the subsidy is actually a discount on an overpriced air fare.
  • There have also been requests by Muslims to withdraw subsidy including some Muslim Parliament members as it is against Islam even it was beneficial

RBI’s Sixth Bimonthly Monetary Policy Review

  • Reserve Bank of India surprised markets with a decision to keep interest rates on hold despite an overwhelming expectation of an interest rate cut.
  • The central bank in its sixth bi-monthly policy review on Wednesday cited global uncertainty, rising commodity prices and a strong resurgence of demand in FY18 as the reasons for keeping rates on hold.
  • The initial reaction of the domestic stock market to the policy announcement was negative, as the market was expecting a 25 basis points rate cut from the central bank.
  • The BSE Sensex slipped some 125 points immediately after the announcement. The rupee was trading nearly 4 paise higher at 67.37 against the dollar at around 2.33 pm (IST)
  • The six-member Monetary Policy Committed chaired by RBI governor Urjit Patel voted unanimously to keep the repo rate unchanged at 6.25 per cent and reverse repo rate at 5.75 per cent.

Neutral Stance

  • The RBI said in its statement that “the decision of the MPC is consistent with a neutral stance of monetary policy in consonance with the objective of achieving consumer price index (CPI) inflation at 5 per cent by Q4 of 2016-17 and the medium -term target of 4 per cent within a band of +/- 2 per cent,while supporting growth.”

About Inflation 

  • The RBI said that, inflation is projected to be in the range of 4.0 to 4.5 per cent in the first half of the financial year and in the range of 4.5 to 5.0 per cent in the second half with risks evenly balanced around this projected path
  • It added that, in this context, it is important to note three significant upside risks that impart some uncertainty to the baseline inflation path – the hardening profile of international crude prices; volatility in the exchange rate on account of global financial market developments,which could impart upside pressures to domestic inflation; and the fuller effects of the house rent allowances under the 7th CentralPay Commission (CPC) award which have not been factored in the baseline inflation path.
  • The focus of the Union budget on growth revival without compromising on fiscal prudence should bode well for limiting upside risks to inflation.

Cut: GDP growth forecast for this fiscal

  • The RBI has projected GDP growth in the current fiscal at 6.9 per cent but expects growth to recover sharply in the next fiscal (2017-18) and reach 7.4%.
  • First, it said discretionary consumer demand held back by demonetisation is expected to bounce back beginning in the closing months of 2016-17.
  • Second, economic activity in cash-intensive sectors such as retail trade, hotels and restaurants, and transportation, as well as in the unorganised sector, is expected to be rapidly restored.
  • Third, demonetisation- induced ease in bank funding conditions has led to a sharp improvement in transmission of past policy rate reductions into marginal cost -based lending rates (MCLRs), and in turn, to lending rates for healthy borrowers, which should spur a pick-up in both consumption and investment demand.
  • Fourth, the emphasis in the Union Budget for 2017-18 on stepping up capital expenditure, and boosting the rural economy andaffordable housing should contribute to growth.
  • Accordingly,GVA growth for 2017-18 is projected at 7.4 per cent, with risks evenly balanced.

MoU signed between India and France in science and technology

  • The Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has been apprised of the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) of Cooperation between Technology Development Board (TDB), Department of Science & Technology, Govt. of India and Bpifrance, a Public Investment Bank, France.
  • The agreement will foster exchange of desirable practices and setting up of coordinated measures to further developmental exchange in the field of science, technology and innovation.
  • The MoU aims at carrying out activities related to exchange of best practices in the field of science and technology through TDP and Bpifrance
  • The Cabinet was also apprised of the Framework Agreement between India and Senegal in the field of health and medicine which includes cooperation in AIDS control, integrated disease surveillance and emergency relief.
  • A working group will be set up to further elaborate the details of cooperation and to oversee the implementation of this pact, as per the decision of the Union Cabinet taken this evening.
  • The areas of cooperation include medical research, hospital management, drugs and pharmaceutical products and hospital equipment’s, traditional medicine and other areas of mutual interest.
  • The agreement will ensure exchange of best practices and setting up of coordinated measures to foster technological exchanges in the field of science, technology and innovation through collaboration between companies, organisations and institutions of France and India.

Govt approves revenue insurance scheme for plantation crops

  • The commerce ministry has approved the pilot Revenue Insurance Scheme for Plantation Crops for protecting the growers from the risks such as yield loss, pest attacks and income decline caused by fall in prices.
  • The Price Stabilization Fund (PSF) Scheme, 2003 was closed on September 30, 2013 and Revenue Insurance Scheme for Plantation Crops (RISPC) is an improved form of the PSF, Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha.
  • She said that RISPC was approved on September 16 last year and will be implemented on a pilot basis for two years covering tea, coffee, rubber, cardamom and tobacco in eight districts in West Bengal, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Sikkim and Tamil Nadu by the commodity boards.
  • On the basis of performance of the pilot project, the minister said, the scheme will be considered for extension to other districts.
  • Replying to a separate question on industrial corridors, Sitharaman said as per the institutional and financial framework for the development of these corridors approved by the government, land acquisition/ pooling/ procurement and making it available for projects is the responsibility of the concerned state.
  • Citing example of Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor, the minister said for the Ahmedabad Dholera Special Investment Region in Gujarat, 1706.13 hectares of land has been transferred by the state to Dholera Industrial City Development Ltd.
  • For the Visakhapatnam Chennai Industrial Corridor (VCIC), the land under possession is 1,887 acres and the land under acquisition/alienation is about 24,056 acres.

INS Sarvekshak goes green

  • Indian Navy’s survey vessel INS Sarvekshak has gone green by installing a solar power system on board.
  • The navy said the system, equipped on the ship, works using sunlight and hence, is 100% reliable for power source that can be used for communication equipment, battery charging and general lightings onboard round the clock with battery outputs during the night.
  • The system is “maintenance free” whereas the diesel generator requires regular maintenance, it said.
  • Even if the system is used for 25 days in one year, the system can repay its cost in less than 10 years while protecting the nature
  • By installing the 5 KW solar power system, the vessel will be able to avoid around 165kg of carbon a day, 60,225 kg of carbon a year plus 22,995 litres of diesel.
  • The estimated profit generated in a ship service life of 25 years is Rs 2.7 crore in this small project alone.
  • So in its 25 years of life cycle, the total carbon saved is around 15 lakh kg and 5.75 lakh litres of diesel by this innovation,
  • A navy spokesman said this was “a unique activity never attempted on any warship in India, perhaps not even abroad on warships.”
  • Noting that the world is looking for clean, renewable and sustainable sources of energy to protect and reduce the harm caused to the environment, the navy said the deterioration of the environment was highly correlated to the production and usage of fossil-based fuels worldwide.
  • The Navy said it has created a new mechanism to encourage the utilization and development of renewable energy resources.

Reliance Defence inks Pact with US Navy to repair warships

  • Reliance Defence has announced an agreement with the US Navy for repairs and servicing of warships at the Pipavav shipyard in Gujarat.
  • The agreement will see warships from the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet visiting the Indian facility for complex repair and alteration works.
  • Reliance Infrastructure (R-Infra) controlled Reliance Defence and Engineering (RDEL) has signed master ship repair agreement (MSRA) with the US Navy.
  • In January this year, Reliance Shipyard was qualified by the US Navy as an approved contractor to perform complex repair and alternation services for its Seventh Fleet vessels operating in the region,” a press release by the company stated.
  • Sources said that the business expectations of the Indian company is in excess of Rs 15,000 crore in revenue over the next five years.
  • The Indian shipyard is likely to handle various types of ships — front line warships, supply vessels and patrol vessels — that are part of the Seventh Fleet.
  • At present the US Navy uses yards in Singapore and Japan for these works.
  • The company expects major work after the signing of the logistics exchange memorandum of agreement (LEMOA) in August last year that enables either side to use facilities for refuelling and replenishment.
  • Reliance Shipyard says it is the first in the country to receive MSRA certification to undertake servicing and repairing works for the vessels of Seventh Fleet.

ISRO creates history, launches 104 satellites in one go

  • Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scripted history today by successfully launching a record 104 satellites, including India’s earth observation satellite, on a single rocket from the spaceport in Sriharikota.
  • This is the highest number of satellites ever launched in a single mission.
  • The space agency’s trusted workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle PSLV-C37, on its 39th mission, took off in the morning, at 9.28 am, today, from Sriharikota space centre with the 104 satellites, of which 101 belongs to international customers.
  • The first to be let off was India’s high resolution Cartosat-2 series satellite made especially to monitor activities of India’s hostile neighbours at a resolution of less than a metre keeping a bird’s eye view on both Pakistan and China.
  • Out of the total 104 satellites placed in orbit, 101 satellites belonged to six foreign countries.
  • They included 96 from the US and one each from Israel, the UAE, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Kazakhstan.
  • It then took less than 10 minutes for the rocket to spew out 101 passengers, which are all foreign nanosatellites, as it travelled up in altitude reaching the polar sun synchronous orbit.Russian Space Agency held a record of launching 37 satellites in one go during its mission in June 2014. India previously launched 23 satellites in a single mission in June 2015.

All about 104 satellites

  • Equipped with panchromatic and multispectral cameras, the 664kg Cartosat -2 will provide remote sensing services similar to that of its predecessors.
  • Images from the satellite will be used for cartographic applications, urban and rural applications, coastal land use and regulation, utility management like road network monitoring, water distribution, creation of land use maps, change detection to bring out geographical and manmade features and various other land information system (LIS) and geographical information system (GSI) applications.
  • INS-1A and INS-1B are versatile and modular nanosatellite bus system envisioned for future science and experimental payload.
  • Among the foreign satellites, 88 cube satellites belonged to San Francisco-based earth imaging startup Planet.
  • With the launch, the company has increased its fleet to 143 satellites which will soon begin capturing images of the earth’s entire landmass, including India, every day.
  •  Eight other satellites belonging to Spire Global, US, will provide services for vessel tracking and weather measurement.
  • The nano satellites from Israel, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the UAE are mostly technology demonstrators.

India’s Largest Cryogenic Engine, Developed Indigenously By ISRO, Tested Successfully

  • After stealing the headlines worldwide this week for launching 104 satellites with a single rocket, the Indian Space Research Organisation or ISRO has successful tested the country’s largest cryogenic engine for a full 10 minutes.
  • The engine will power its mammoth Geosynchronous Satellite
  • Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mark III rocket capable of propelling a 4-ton class satellites into geo-synchronous orbit – the altitude where satellites revolve in sync with the Earth’s rotation.
  • With this final hurdle crossed yesterday at an ISRO facility in Tamil Nadu’s Mahendragiri, India is all set to test the GSLV Mark III rocket which is almost 50 meters high and weighs 414 tons – equal to 75 Asian elephants.
  • The rocket will be a successor to the GSLV Mark II which was first launched in 2001 and can carry a heavier payload than the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle or PSLV.
  • This engine has been developed after two decades of hard work as the technology was denied to India by Russia under pressure from the US.
  • The rocket engine uses liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen as fuel that are stored at minus 253 degrees centigrade and then ignited to burn at plus hundreds of degrees centigrade just a few centimetres down engine. A very complex technology, the cryogenic engine has been mastered only by Russia, USA, France, China, Japan and India.
  • India’s space programme received international acclaim after ISRO scientists pulled off an ambitious mission three years ago to send a probe to orbit Mars that succeeded at the first attempt – and at $74 million cost less than the Hollywood space film Gravity.

Supreme Court: No need to stand up for national anthem if it is part of a film

  • The apex court said the audience need not stand up when the national anthem is part of the story-line of a film, newsreel or documentary, as was seen in blockbuster Dangal recently.
  • Modifying its earlier order ordering that everybody must stand while the national anthem is played in theatres, the Supreme Court today said the audience need not stand if the anthem is part of a film.
  • It is not compulsory to sing the national anthem in cinema halls.
  • There is also no need to stand up if it is a part of film, the apex court said.
  • On November 30 last year, the Supreme Court had ordered cinema halls across the nation to mandatory play the national anthem before screening of a movie and the audience must stand and show respect.
  • Last week, the court refused to give an urgent hearing on a plea seeking direction for framing of a policy to promote and propagate the national anthem, national flag and national song.

India, ADB ink $375 mn loan pact for East Coast Economic Corridor

  • India and ADB have signed USD 375 million pact for loans and grants to develop 800-km Visakhapatnam-Chennai Industrial Corridor, which is the first phase of a planned 2,500-km East Coast Economic Corridor.
  • ADB had last September approved USD 631 million in loans and grants for the industrial corridor.
  • The Asian Development Bank said in a statement that it approved loans comprising a USD 500 million multitranche facility to build key infrastructure in the four main centers along the corridor — Visakhapatnam, Kakinada, Amaravati, and Yerpedu-Srikalahasti in Andhra Pradesh.
  • The first tranche of USD 245 million that was signed will finance subprojects to develop high-quality internal infrastructure in 2 of the 4 nodes of the corridor — Visakhapatnam and Yerpedu-Srikalahasti.
  • Another component of the approved ADB funds that the signatories signed was a USD 125 million policy-based loan that will be used for capacity development of institutions engaged in corridor management, provide support to enhance ease of doing business and for supporting industrial and sector policies to stimulate industrial development, it added.
  • Also an agreement was signed for a USD 5 million grant from the multi-donor Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund that is managed by ADB to build climate change resilient infrastructure.
  • Among the outputs envisaged under the USD 245 million tranche-1 loan include strengthening and widening of a 29.6-kilometer section of state highway to four lanes to improve connectivity from Kakinada Port to National Highway 16, investments in smart water management in Visakhapatnam to reduce nonrevenue water and provide continuous water supply.

About East Coast Economic Corridor

  • The East Coast Economic Corridor (ECEC) is India’s first coastal economic corridor along its eastern coast, stretching about 2,500 kilometers from Kolkata in the north to Kanyakumari in the south.
  • ECEC’s long coastline and strategically located ports allow multiple international gateways to connect India with global value chains (GVCs) in East and Southeast Asia.
  • While India’s trade with East and Southeast Asia has increased at a rapid pace in the past decade, the bulk of this trade is done through the ports on the country’s west coast.
  • This is largely due to lack of efficient transport networks linking the production clusters in northern and central India to ports on the east coast, and insufficient container capacities at the ports.
  • ECEC supports the Government of India’s (GoI) Make in India campaign, which aims to boost manufacturing by attracting foreign investment and facilitating the establishment of manufacturing hubs.
  • ECEC also aligns with port-led industrialization under the Sagar Mala initiative and the Act East Policy by linking domestic companies with the vibrant global production networks of East and Southeast Asia.
  • The Asian Development Bank (ADB) carries out analytical work for the ECEC to determine the kind of industries, infrastructures, and institutional investments necessary to drive manufacturing-led growth in consultation with the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP)

Key dimensions of ECEC

  1. Industrialization and urbanization
  2. Port-led industrialization
  3. Infrastructure network
  4. Regulatory framework
  5. Regional integration

Govt survey shows improved sex ratio, decline in infant mortality rate

  • There has been a considerable improvement in India’s health indicators over the last decade with a decline in infant mortality, complimented by a better sex ratio, more institutional deliveries and wider vaccine coverage.
  • The recent data accumulated during the fourth phase of National Family Health Survey has stated that the population rate is also showing a positive change.
  • According to the Health Ministry, the results of the survey reflected that concerted efforts and focused interventions in the sector could translate to improved outcomes.
  • The survey also stated that sex ratio at birth (number of females per 1,000 males) improved from 914 to 919 at the national level over the last decade with the highest in Kerala (1,047), followed by Meghalaya (1,009) and Chhattisgarh (977). Haryana also witnessed a significant increase from 762 to 836.
  • Similarly, institutional births “dramatically” increased by 40 percentage points from 38.7 per cent in NFHS-3 to 78.9 per cent in NFHS-4.
  • There was an increase of 34.1 per cent institutional births in public facility, while the Empowered Action Group (EAG) in Assam experienced more than a 40 percentage point increase, the survey said.
  • The survey found that there was considerable decline in the TFR in each of the 30 states in India with the maximum decline observed in Uttar Pradesh (1.1 child) followed by Nagaland (1.0 child), Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim (0.9 child each). Bihar, however, failed to register substantial decline.
  • Children within the age of 12-23 months have been fully immunized (BCG, measles and 3 doses each of polio) and DPT increased by 18 percentage points from 44 per cent in NFHS-3 to 62 per cent in NFHS-4,” it said.
  • The survey found that the full immunization coverage increased in Punjab, Bihar and Meghalaya by 29 percentage point each, while in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh it increased by 28 percentage points each.

World Bank to provide $63 mn loan for ‘Tejaswini’ project

  • The World Bank will provide USD 63 million loan to India to empower 6.8 lakh adolescent girls in Jharkhand under the ‘Tejaswini’ project.
  • A Financing Agreement for International Development Association (IDA) credit of USD 63 million (equivalent) for the “Tejaswini: Socio-Economic Empowerment of Adolescent Girls and Young Women Project” was signed last week between the bank and the government.
  • The project seeks to empower the adolescent girls with basic life skills and thereafter provide further opportunities to acquire market driven skill training or completion of secondary education, depending on the inclination of the beneficiary.
  • The project will be delivered in 17 districts of Jharkhand.
  • It has three main component — expanding social, educational and economic opportunities; intensive service delivery; and state capacity-building and implementation support.
  • About 6.8 lakh adolescent girls and young women in the project districts are expected to benefit from the programme.
  • The closing date for the project is June 30, 2021.

This projects consists of three components:

1. The first component, Expanding Social, Educational, and Economic Opportunities, aims to support adolescent girls and young women of fifteen districts in Jharkhand to achieve greater social, educational, and economic empowerment. It has two sub components as follows:

(i) Community-level Socioeconomic Empowerment of Adolescent Girls and Young Women;

(ii) Institution-level Interventions for Completion of Vocational Skills Training and Education.

2. The second component, Intensive Service Delivery, will pilot and         evaluate more intensive community-level service delivery models in two districts focused on increasing adolescent girls and young women’s access to educational interventions, training, and employment opportunities. It has two sub-components as follows:

(i) Enhanced Last Mile Service Delivery;

(ii) Enhanced Outreach to Hard-to-reach Populations.

3. The third component, State Capacity Building and implementation, Support, aims to support  strengthening of institutional capacity and outreach of the Department of Women and Child Development and Social Security (DWCDSS) and the Jharkhand Women Development Society (JWDS) to enable effective and efficient delivery of services for AGYW in the state. It has two sub components as follows:

(i) Strengthening Systems and Convergence

(ii) Project Implementation Support

India’s First Heliport Inaugurated In Delhi

  • Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju on 28th Feb inaugurated the country’s first integrated heliport at Rohini in North Delhi.
  • India’s first heliport has been built by state-owned Pawan Hans.
  • The new facility has come up at an investment of Rs 100 crore.
  • The heliport has a terminal building having capacity of 150 passengers, four hangars with parking capacity of 16 helicopters and nine parking bays.
  • It also has a maintenance, repair and overhaul facility.
  • Besides, it has a maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) facility also for the upkeep of Pawan Hans fleet as well as for third-party maintenance work.
  • Pawan Hans had successfully carried out trial sorties from the heliport in February last year and had planned to go for full-scale chopper operations from May.
  • The heliport will also be used for operating services for disaster management, emergency medical services, law and order surveillance as well as a centre for the skill development of pilots and engineers.
  • The heliport will play an important role in providing various helicopter services ranging from offshore transport, connecting remote & inaccessible Islands of Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep promoting heli-tourism in India.
  • The commencement of services from here is also expected to reduce congestion at the Delhi Airport, which currently handles about 40-50 helicopter arrivals and departures on an average per day besides the large-scale fixed-wing operations

India: Railways to roll out high speed indigenous rakes

  • The railways will soon manufacture its own train sets that can run at a maximum speed of 160 kilometre per hour, after its global bid in this regard failed to elicit positive response.
  • Aptly named ‘Train-2018’, the first train set a rake without a separate locomotive is expected to be ready by March next year and likely to be pressed into service in Delhi-Lucknow or Delhi-Chandigarh sector.
  • A train set, much like a Delhi Metro rake, comprises of many coaches that are individually powered by a propulsion system, eliminating the need for locomotive.
  • Aiming to offer both comfort and pace to passengers, the project will roll out semi-high speed, 16-coach train sets with quicker acceleration and world-class passenger amenities.
  • For the first time in Indian Railways, these train sets will have automatic plug type doors that will open and close at stations, wide windows for panoramic view, and ergonomically designed seating.
  • Equipped with bio-toilets, all coaches in the fully AC train set will be inter-connected so that passengers can move from one coach to other with ease.

Global tender

  • As per the Rs. 200 crore project, two train sets will be manufactured, in collaboration with foreign players on transfer of technology basis, for which the ICF has floated a fresh global tender.
  • The railways had floated a global tender for procurement-cum-maintenance and manufacture of 15 train sets with 315 coaches in June, 2015.
  • Though five bidders had qualified for the initial round, they did not find the offer viable and asked for raising the tender size to 1,000 coaches.

WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement comes into force

  • The WTO’s trade facilitation agreement, which seeks to ease customs norms, has come into effect with its two-thirds members ratifying the pact.
  • The TFA, which has been ratified by India, will give a boost to the global trade, which has been impacted due to slowdown in the world economy.
  • According to experts, the agreement comes at a time when India’s efforts to improve exports are gaining momentum.
  • “As the pact has come into force, the member countries who have ratified would now be required to ease customs barriers. It would help countries like India which are trying to push exports,” said Biswajit Dhar, professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.
  • The 164-member World Trade Organisation (WTO) in a statement said that a major milestone for the global trading system was reached today as the first multilateral deal concluded in the 21-year history of the multi-lateral trade body entered into force.
  • In receiving four more ratifications for the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), the WTO has obtained the two- thirds acceptance of the agreement from its 164 members needed to bring the TFA into force.
Details of the agreement
  • The agreement, in effect, is a broad series of trade facilitation reforms spread out over a gamut of trade issues across the areas of transparency and predictability of trading across borders.
  • It aims to create a less discriminatory business environment. It also includes faster clearance procedures, enhanced conditions for freedom of transit for goods improvements, improved appeal rights for traders as well as reduced fees and formalities connected with the import and export of goods.
  • However, these reforms will only follow after countries independently notify various provisions which might extend beyond the next three years.
  • The basic set of provisions will be implemented by least-developed countries (LDC) within one year from now. Also, many countries, including India, will receive more time to set in motion a further set of provisions.
  • Critics have argued that the deal favoured developed nations since developing and LDC nations will face tougher challenges in bringing up their regulatory and customs practises as well as modernise necessary trade infrastructure to reap the benefit of TFA.
  • A Trade Facilitation Agreement Facility has been created to channel assistance from richer nations needed to plug these holes.

Will India benefit?

  • The TFA rationalises prices and provides for consultations before new trade rules are notified, making trade smoother. Based on current trade figures, an additional trade of $15-20 billion can be expected,” Ajay Sahai, director general of Federation of Indian Exports Organizations, said.
  • According to a WTO study, the full implementation of the TFA is forecast to decrease the trade costs of member nations by an average of 14.3 per cent, with developing countries having the most to gain.
  • The TFA is also likely to reduce the time needed to import goods by over a day and a half and to export goods by almost two days, representing a reduction of 47 per cent and 91 per cent, respectively, over the current average.
  • Moreover, once the TFA is fully implemented, developing countries such as India are predicted to increase the number of new products exported by as much as 20 per cent, with least developed countries likely to see an increase of up to 35 per cent, according to the study.

More fight ahead

  • However, this should not deflect public attention away from the more crucial matter at stake in front of the multilateral platform, that of facilitating development in poorer nations.
  • In this regard, the negotiations on the Doha Development Round, launched in 2001, serve as a microcosm of the WTO itself and the way it has functioned.
  • While developmental issues, primarily regarding agriculture, have continued to be opposed by the developed nations, they have in turn kept the thrust on the introduction of newer issues like e-commerce.
  • This was seen as recently as earlier this month when WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo had visited India and held discussions on the issue with leading private companies.
  • For India, a permanent solution to the issue of public stockholding of foodgrain and discussions on a special safeguard mechanism will remain of primary importance at the upcoming ministerial conference in Argentina, later this year.
  • India is also pushing for the inclusion of discussions on a TFA on services at Argentina.
  • It aims to ease movement of skilled professionals across borders as well as reducing transaction costs. India’s services sector accounts for more than 60 per cent of its GDP and 28 per cent of employment.

India – Israel to develop missile for Army

  • Ahead of the first visit of an Indian Prime Minister to Israel later this year, India has approved a deal to develop jointly a medium range surface-to-air missile (MR-SAM) system for the Army in a Rs. 17,000-crore deal.
  • This is the latest in a series of other variants of SAM systems for the Navy and the Air Force being jointly developed with Israeli help under deals estimated at billions of dollars.

Joint development

  • The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which met on 22nd Feb, gave the go-ahead for the deal to be executed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI).
  • The deal is for five regiments of the missile, which consists of 40 units and 200 missiles. It has a range of 50-70 km.
  • The system will be based on the older Barak system of Israel, which is in use in India & It is being changed as per requirements
  • The systems will be manufactured in India and would have an 80% indigenous content.
  • The DRDO would play a crucial role in developing the target homing system. Deliveries would begin in 2023
  • The two countries are also in an advanced stage of negotiations for the purchase of two more long-range Phalcon Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS).
  • The CCS had approved the deal for additional AWACS last year expected at a cost of Rs. 7,500 crore.

Nasa discovers new solar system TRAPPIST-1 – May sustain life

  • Life may have evolved on at least three planets within a newly discovered solar system that is 39 light years from Earth, it was announced last night.
  • Astronomers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have detected no less than seven roughly Earth-sized worlds orbiting a dwarf star in the system,
  • Scientists had previously only identified a tiny number of so-called “exoplanets”, which are believed to have the qualities needed to support life.
  • However, the new system contains an unprecedented number of Earth-sized, probably rocky planets, and is being hailed as an “accelerated leap forward” in the search for extraterrestrial life.
  • The planets were detected using Nasa’s Spitzer Space Telescope and several ground-based observatories. Lead researcher Michaël Gillon, of the University of Liège, said: “The planets are all close to each other and very close to the star, which is very reminiscent of the moons around Jupiter.
  • The team determined that all the planets in the system are similar in size to Earth and Venus, or slightly smaller. And density measurements suggest that at least the innermost six planets are rocky. Because the star is so dim, the planets are warmed gently despite having orbits much smaller than that of Mercury, the planet closest to our Sun.

What we know

  • The planets are so close to each other and the star that there are seven of them within a space five times smaller than the distance from Mercury to our sun.
  • This proximity allows the researchers to study the planets in depth as well, gaining insight about planetary systems other than our own.
  • Standing on the surface of one of the planets, you would receive 200 times less light than you get from the sun, but you would still receive just as much energy to keep you warm since the star is so close.
  • It would also afford some picturesque views, as the other planets would appear in the sky as big as the moon (or even twice as big).
  • On TRAPPIST-1f, the star would appear three times as big as the sun in our sky. And because of the red nature of the star, the light would be a salmon hue, the researchers speculate.
  • The researchers believe the planets formed together further from the star. Then, they moved into their current lineup. This is incredibly similar Jupiter and its Galilean moons.
  • Like the moon, the researchers believe the planets closest to the star are tidally locked. This means that the planets always face one way to the star. One side of the planet is perpetually night, while the other is always day.

How The Discovery was made?

  • TRAPPIST-1 barely classifies as a star at half the temperature and a tenth the mass of the sun. It is red, dim and just a bit larger than Jupiter. But these tiny ultracool dwarf stars are common in our galaxy.
  • They were largely overlooked until Gillon decided to study the space around one of these dwarfs.
  •  The researchers used a telescope called TRAPPIST (TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope) to observe its starlight and changes in brightness.
  • The team saw shadows, like little eclipses, periodically interrupting the steady pattern of starlight. This is called transiting.
  • The shadows indicated planets, and further observation confirmed them.
  •  In July, the team was able to determine that two of the closest planets to the stars had atmospheres that were more compact and comparable to those of Earth, Venus and Mars by observing starlight through the planets’ atmosphere.
  •  By using a global network ground-based telescopes like TRAPPIST and space-based telescopes like Spitzer, the researchers continued looking toward the TRAPPIST system and were able to determine the orbital periods, distances from their star, radius and and masses of the planets.

What Next?

  • Over the next decade, the researchers want to define the atmosphere of each planet, as well as to determine whether they truly do have liquid water on the surface and search for signs of life.
  • Although 40 light-years away doesn’t sound too far, it would take us millions of years to reach this star system. But from a research perspective, it’s a close opportunity and the best target to search for life beyond our solar system.
  • In 2018, the James Webb Space Telescope will launch and be positioned 1 million miles from Earth with an unprecedented view of the universe.
  • It can observe large exoplanets and detect starlight filtered through their atmosphere.The researchers are also searching for similar star systems to conduct more atmospheric research.
  • Four telescopes named SPECULOOS (Search for habitable Planets EClipsing ULtra-cOOl Stars) based in Chile will survey the southern sky for this purpose.
  • This star system will probably outlive us because this type of star evolves so slowly. When our sun dies, TRAPPIST-1 will still be a young star and will live for another trillion years, Gillon said. After we are gone, if there is another part of the universe for life to carry on, it may be in the TRAPPIST-1 system.

Bharat QR code launched to push less-cash economy

  • BharatQR code, the world’s first interoperable payment acceptance solution, was launched today as part of efforts to move towards less-cash economy at an “insignificant cost”, according to industry members.
  • Over the past few months, the government has been aggressively pushing for higher usage of digital payment mechanisms, including launching BHIM app and increasing penetration of PoS machines.
  • Developed by National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), Mastercard, and Visa, BharatQR code would require merchants to only display one QR code instead of multiple ones.
  • Devised on the direction set by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in September last year, it will make payments seamless for buyers as they just have to “scan to pay” for transactions instead of swiping their credit/debit cards.
  • NPCI Managing Director and CEO AP Hota said RuPay has emerged as one of the most successful “home grown card networks in the world” and BharatQR code initiative is yet another “transformational step towards building a less-cash economy at an insignificant cost.”
  • QR code or Quick Response code is a two-dimensional machine-readable code made up of black and white squares and are used for storing URLs or other information. These can be read by the camera of a smartphone.
  • Mastercard Country Corporate Officer (India) and Division President (South Asia) Porush Singh said the company has developed ‘Masterpass QR’, which was developed and created at its technology centre in Vadodara.
  • A number of leading banks are already operationally ready to deploy BharatQR, including SBI, Axis Bank, Bank of Baroda, Bank of India, Citi Union Bank, Development Credit Bank, Karur Vysya Bank, HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank, IDBI Bank, RBL Bank, Union Bank of India, Vijaya Bank and Yes Bank.
  • Many other banks are at various stages of implementation.
  • Mobile wallet companies like Paytm have already been working with QR codes for some time.
  • The Alibaba-backed firm has said it plans to invest Rs 600 crore in the next 10 months to further enhance its QR code-based payments solution.
  • MobiKwik Chief Business Officer Vineet Singh saod the BharatQR initiative will help in further advancing the digital payments ecosystem in India.

India’s only live volcano, Becomes Active

  • India’s only live volcano in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands which had started showing activity in the year 1991 after being dormant for over 150 years has once again started spewing ash, the researchers at Goa based National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) said on 18th Feb.
  • The Barren Island volcano, located 140-km north-east of Port Blair, dormant for more than 150 years started erupting in 1991 and has since then shown intermittent activity.
  • A team of scientists led by Abhay Mudholkar, from CSIR-National Institute of Oceanography (CSIR-NIO) in Goa reported that the volcano is active and spewing smoke and lava once again.
  • During the daytime only ash clouds were observed. However, after sundown, the team observed red lava fountains spewing from the crater into the atmosphere and hot lava flows streaming down the slopes of the volcano
  • NIO has said the volcano was revisited in the early hours of January 26, 2017 again during the second leg of the cruise led by B Nagender Nath, adding the team witnessed the continuation of spurts of blasts and smoke.
  • They have sampled the sediments and water in the vicinity of the volcano and recovered coal-like black pyroclastic material representing proximal volcanic ejecta.
  • These samples will help in deciphering the nature of the present and past volcanic activity in the region.
  • Researchers from CSIR-NIO have been studying the past volcanic events in Andaman Basin-based on the ash layers in a sediment column.
  • The Andaman Basin is an active back-arc spreading basin and is known for its strong seismicity and many submarine volcanoes and hydrothermal activity, the release said.
  • Scientists from CSIR-NIO have been surveying the Andaman Basin and they have identified many small submerged volcanoes in a linear chain called a volcanic arc.
  • These volcanoes are formed due to the rising magma formed deep in the mantle due to the melting of the subducted Indian Ocean crust, said the release.
  • A few of these submarine volcanoes have been dredged for samples and pumice type of light volcanic rock have been recovered, it said.
  • The volcanic island is uninhabited and the northern part of the island is, as the name suggests, barren and devoid of vegetation.
  • Private citizens of India can visit the volcanic island by chartered boats after obtaining permission of the Forest Department in Port Blair.

Madras HC orders TN govt to enact law on removal of seemai karuvelam trees

  • The Madurai bench of the Madras high court on Monday directed the Tamil Nadu government to enact a law with prohibitory and penal clauses within two months to eradicate seemai karuvelam trees (prosopis juliflora).
  • It also directed the government to release perennial funds to the district collectors in the state for removing of the seemai karuvelam trees.
  • The court, which had ordered removal of those trees in the thirteen districts that come under its jurisdiction, on February 10 directed to remove those trees in the entire state. Accordingly, the authorities concerned in the districts are taking steps in that regard.
  • Directing the government to introduce the Act, the Bench warned that the HC judges, who inspected three districts, will continue their surprise inspection.
  • The collectors were asked to clear the species within 15 days. The Principal District Judges (PDJ) and Advocate Commissioners should inspect and submit their reports on March 20, the Bench ruled.
  • The order came after the court heard a batch of petitions including Public Interest Litigations seeking directions to remove the seemai karuvelam trees claiming that they are harmful to the agriculture and environment.

Why Seemai karuvelam trees is unsafe?

  • Acacia Nilotica or Acacia Arabica is the biological name for Karuvelam trees. Seemai karuvelam was introduced in Tamil Nadu in the 60’s as fuel wood to help the people reeling under a drought situation.
  • This tree will grow in least water/water scarcity areas like Karukkalacherry (Karaikal) ,Ramanathapuram, Sivagangai, pudukottai, virudunagar and kambam districts.
  • Karuvelam tree absorbs as much as four litres of water to produce one kg of biomass. The species is also known to germinate very fast and it spreads easily as a weed.
  • It never shelters birds because they produce less oxygen but emits more carbon dioxide.
  • It also affects soil nutrients & it makes it surrounding droughty.
  • If there is no rain it starts absorbing underground water.
  • If there is no under ground water they absorb the humidity(the amount of water vapour in the air) from the air surrounding it. Nobody uses these trees’ products, moreover its roots change the ground water poisonous.

Solutions

  • Land owners should immediately take efforts to remove ‘karuvelam’ trees grown on private lands.
  • The plant shouldn’t be simply cut or cleared, but should be carefully uprooted. Partially cut Karuvelam plants can grow very fast and four times thicker.